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Empire Of The Sikhs - Maharaja Ranjit Singh - Book By Patwant Singh/Jyoti M. Rai

Introduction Of The Book ‘Empire Of The Sikhs - Maharaja Ranjit Singh’ By Patwant Singh/Jyoti M. Rai

A long-awaited book on the epoch-making events that led to the creation of the Sikh empire and the role played by its founder, Ranjit Singh

Inheriting his father's misl (or chiefdom) at a very young age, Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) soon made his presence felt. A school dropout who lost sight in his left eye due to a childhood illness, he was truly at home only in the saddle. His military and political genius united the twelve warring Sikh misls, absorbed numerous Hindu and Muslim territories, threw back the invading Afghans and held up British supremacy from spreading all over the Indian subcontinent for close to half a century.

He built up a kingdom in Punjab that virtually extended over the entire area north of Delhi, almost to Kabul in the north-west and to Tibet in the north-east. But what makes him unique among empire builders was his consummate humanity: he tortured no one, gave employment and responsibility to defeated foes, provided non-Sikhs a majority share in his government, and honoured other faiths.

Ranjit Singh's powerful empire looked set to dominate the future of northern India for a long time, until soon after his death, the British encouraged and exploited treachery within the Sikh ranks and annexed his kingdom. Since then, his image and place in history have been dependent on often false British accounts and judgements.

Empire of the Sikhs sets the record straight on one of the great figures of Indian history. The authors have drawn on many different sources to tell their inspiring story of Ranjit Singh's extraordinary achievements. These range from eyewitness accounts by both Europeans and Indians, court diaries, reports of Maratha spies at the Lahore court, British parliamentary papers and British and Indian archives.

Empire of the Sikhs is a welcome and vital new addition to India's historical literature.



Until Lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter

Nigerian proverb

Historians, for reasons of their own, have often done grave injustice to outstanding historical figures by refusing to accord them their rightful place in history. But when even convincing evidence of greatness is overlooked because the political culture of the time required it, then it becomes necessary to correct such oversights and falsifications, no matter how long after the event.

Ranjit Singh was one such colossus who bestrode the Indian scene but never received the credit due to him as one of the outstanding figures of India's history. He created the altogether extraordinary empire of the Sikhs, the borders of which extended beyond India and into Afghanistan and China. He also held the British in check for 40 years to the south of his realm, and closed the Khyber Pass through which invaders and plunderers had for centuries poured into India.

Just as Alexander the Great in 333 b.c. is said to have fulfilled King Midas's prophecy that whoever untied the Gordian knot would rule Asia, Ranjit Singh and Napoleon Bonaparte, two outstanding visionaries and military commanders who were contemporaries, laid their own claims to fulfilling this prophecy by untying the knot and establishing empires in the most divided parts of the world. They each shared a deep mistrust of the British, because they had no illusions about the degree to which their common adversary was driven by ambitions of empire.

Even though many books have been published on Ranjit Singh, we felt that a definitive biography of this rare man had still to be written, to cover not only the entire range of his military achievements but also the just and humane rule he provided during turbulent times when barbarism was the order of the day. The task we set ourselves was to bring out the essence of the man, his daily routine, his likes and dislikes, and his dealings with people in every walk of life. Equally important to understand were his relationships with the many women in his life and the courtesies and decencies that he extended to them without exception. Yet another side of Ranjit Singh was reflected in the grandeur of his Lahore Durbar, equal to any European or Mughal court, his jewels, objets d'art and precious artifacts, which he collected all his life.

In order to draw upon as many different accounts as we could, we went to original sources with eyewitness accounts by Europeans and Indians alike; court diaries during Ranjit Singh's time; reports of Maratha spies at the Lahore Durbar; British Parliamentary papers; Lahore political diaries; British-Indian archives and the libraries of Columbia University, Panjab University, Chandigarh, Panjabi University, Patiala, and the New York Public Library.

What we discovered was that the civilized rule of Ranjit Singh was entirely different from the way in which many other rulers have treated their people in India. The question that has remained unanswered till now is: what made him the man he was? A man who shunned the flagrant violations of humanitarian principles so very common throughout history? What made him adhere so scrupulously throughout his life to the goals he set himself? And what inner resources did he draw upon, which enabled him to abide by the ethical and exemplary rules he so diligently observed?

In our effort to find answers to these questions, we were drawn ever deeper into a better understanding of the intense beliefs that helped Ranjit Singh achieve all that he did. His most compelling quality was his total commitment to the religious faith into which he was born. If in Sikhism secularity - or equal respect for other religions - was its founding principle, then he was determined never to deviate from it.

As proof of this was the fact that no other ruler in the sprawling subcontinent had ever had in his cabinet as many men owing allegiance to other religions as Ranjit Singh. At the peak of his power, there were only seven Sikhs in his cabinet of fifteen ministers and the rest were Hindus and Muslims. Many others of different religions, such as Jains, Buddhists, Christians and the bewildering subdivisions of these faiths, were accommodated according to their talents.

How was this leader able to achieve the seemingly impossible goals he set himself? The answer lies in his veneration of the ten founding fathers of the Sikh faith and the ethos of decency and discipline they preached. A part of the answer also lies in the fact that at the age of nine he had to assume the chieftainship of his father's misl, or confederacy, which was one of the more powerful in Punjab. To take on the chief's mantle was an awesome responsibility. But Ranjit Singh, by handling it with energy and elan, gained the self-confidence that never left him.

The achievements of his grandfather and his father before him, who were warriors and leaders of great repute, were of fundamental importance to his own career. But the distinctive qualities that made Ranjit Singh truly exceptional were his humanitarianism, his respect for other faiths and his total disgust for the inhumane treatment that rulers of the day inflicted on their defeated adversaries. As a British historian rightly observed: 'Ranjit Singh was not cruel or bloodthirsty. After a victory or the capture of a fortress he treated the vanquished with leniency and kindness however stout their resistance might have been, and there were at his Court many chiefs despoiled of their estates but to whom he had given suitable employ.

Another fascinating aspect of this multifaceted man was his refusal to allow any cities, towns, forts, highways, gardens, statues, archways, monuments and such to commemorate him. Most extraordinary of all was that even though he established many mints, which produced fine coins, there is just one small coin with his image on it, which shows Ranjit Singh kneeling before Guru Nanak with folded hands. If any one thing highlights his self-effacing qualities and, by definition, his refusal to prop himself up in time-worn ways, this is it.

It is also worth recording that even after he had wrested control of Amritsar from the chiefs of the Bhangi misl in 1802, Ranjit Singh arrived at the Harmandir, the Golden Temple, not as a victorious military leader or the monarch of a Sikh state, but as a devotee - amongst countless others - come to pray at the holiest of Sikh shrines. This was his way of demonstrating his conviction that within the precincts of the Darbar Sahib there was no place for the self-important or arrogant.

Equally significant is the fact that the Harmandir Sahib in the centre of the pool of the Darbar Sahib in Amritsar has an inscription of a few lines at the entrance to the shrine, acknowledging Ranjit Singh's contribution towards making the Golden Temple one of its kind in the world. The inscription, translated from Gurmukhi, reads: "The great Guru in his wisdom looked upon Maharaja Ranjit Singh as his chief servitor and Sikh, and in his benevolence bestowed upon him the privilege of serving the Darbar Sahib.' There could be no greater acknowledgement of Ranjit Singh's lasting legacy than these lines at the entrance of the fountainhead of the Sikh faith. To this day they inspire Sikhs the world over, no matter where they have put down their roots, since Sikhs now live in all corners of the world - confident, purposeful, productive and proud of their incomparable heritage.

Patwant Singh Jyoti M Rai

About the Author ‘Patwant Singh/Jyoti M. Rai' of the Book ‘Empire Of The Sikhs - Maharaja Ranjit Singh’

Patwant Singh's books have covered a wide range of subjects from the US role in

current global unrest to incisive and trenchant criticism of India's foreign and domestic policies. One of India's most respected commentators, his articles have appeared in addition to various newspapers and magazines in India, in The New York Times, Canada's Globe and Mail, the UK's Independent and many other publications.

Jyoti M. Rai, a renowned numismatist, was a member of the American Numismatic Society's Standing Committee for Central and South Asian Coins. A specialist on Sikh coinage for over 20 years, she has studied, catalogued and assessed coins of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, writing several papers on Sikh mints and coins for the UK's Oriental Numismatic Society. She owns an extensive and rare collection of Sikh coins, related books and documents. She has also done extensive research in Sikh history and on the life and times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.


Table of Contents Of The Book ‘Empire Of The Sikhs - Maharaja Ranjit Singh’ By Patwant Singh/Jyoti M. Rai

The Rivers of Destiny  
The Dawn of a New Faith  
Martyrs Who Made the Sikhs Proud  
The Drumbeat of a School Dropout  
The Emergence of the Sikh Kingdom  
Campaigns, Conquests and Consolidation  
The Unabashed Sensualist  
Patron of the Arts and Minter Extraordinary  
Flouting the Republican Tradition  
The Decadent and the Deceitful  
Twilight of an Empire  




Author Patwant Singh/Jyoti M. Rai
Pages 371
Cover Hardbound
Language English

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Empire Of The Sikhs - Maharaja Ranjit Singh - Book By Patwant Singh/Jyoti M. Rai

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